Game fishing fun today, smart tomorrow

“It’s not about fishing for today, it’s about fishing for tomorrow.”

Committee Member for Maldives Game Fishing Association (MGFA) Tiffany Bond said its upcoming Maldives Game Fishing Challenge, in association with Dhiraagu, will involve locals and tourists in a tradition-based water sport while supporting conservation efforts.

“The competition is a big introductory way for local and international anglers to fish alongside each other, sharing expertise and learning more about the big fish that are out there. We look forward to providing an equal playing field for all involved,” said Bond.

The tournament features tag-and-release fishing, wherein captured fish are ‘tagged’ by inserting a narrow identification tube into the shoulder area before being released into the sea. The method supports fish conservation efforts worldwide.

The tournament will take place from November 9-12 in and around North and South Male’ and Vaavu atolls. Targeted species include marlin, sailfish, yellowfin, big eye, dog tooth tuna and wahoo. Line classes used will be 20, 30, 50 and 80 pounds, with minimum weights on all classes.

The International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) has endorsed the competition as an IFA Offshore World Championship Qualifying Event.

Fishing is the Maldives’ only export, and an integral part of its culture and heritage.

Noting that the Maldives is 99 percent water, Bond said it was “extraordinary” that big game fishing had not previously been introduced on a large scale. She suggested that the oversight was due to the Maldives’ tradition of “fishing for now, and usually catching smaller fish locally with dhonis and small lines. We would like to add to that tradition by introducing the conservation-friendly sport of big game fishing.”

Several resorts in the country offer game fishing as an excursion, however the practice of tag-and-release remains largely unknown.

Bond said that while these resorts have the sporting equipment their crews are often unfamiliar with methods such as how to handle a fish “to give it an optimum chance at life after release,” said Bond.

Growth of the sport is expected to add to the Maldives’ large tourism economy. “The Maldives is a unique place for game fishing because it can appeal to the angler and the angler’s wife. While the angler goes fishing, there are lots of things for the wife and family to enjoy as well. In many ways, it’s another feather in the tourism hat,” said Bond.

MGFA Vice President Ahmed Nazeer said game fishing would attract a new tourism demographic. “The competitors and fishermen we see are not likely to be the average romantic vacationers or honeymooners, but serious competitive sportsmen,” he said at a press conference today.

Nazeer said the specific nature of the sport would attract long-anglers from the United States, a country which is not highly represented in tourist arrivals.

He further indicated that the tournament was in line with global trends. “The approach to game fishing is increasingly popular abroad. If we see significant improvement with sustainable sports fishing, we will take steps to develop a long-term commitment to the sport in the Maldives.”

MGFA aims to develop conservation efforts and contribute to local charities. Bond said the association intends to collaborate with the Male’ Marine Research Center, and hopes to unite other conservation operations into a robust cooperative effort.

Under one plan, some of the fish caught will be kept for information gathering purposes and then sold on the fish market. The profits will go to a local charity, which has not yet been selected.

Bond noted in an interview that renowned Australian marine scientist Dr. Julian Pepperell had previously approached the Maldivian government with an interest in developing conservation programs. His inquiries allegedly solicited no response. Bond noted that Pepperell is keen to work with MGFA in the near future.

MGFA anticipates hosting 80 competitors for the event, which is open to local and international anglers. Participants and crew will be trained in the technique and advantage of tag-and-release fishing, and prizes will be awarded to the categories angler, team and boat. Registration fees are US$650, and may be submitted at the MGFA website.